Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts

Friday, March 30, 2007

Miracles happen

It would appear that a miracle was brought about on 2 June 2005 through the intercession of the late head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John-Paul II. The Frenchwoman who benefited from that miracle happens to be a member of this same Church: Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a 46-year-old nun. That's the Catholic way of keeping things in the family.

The story, which spans over two months, is straightforward. By the time John-Paul II died on 2 April 2005, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre was already gravely affected by Parkinson's disease on the left side of her body. Being left-handed, she could no longer write, and her trembling left arm dangled at her side when she walked. A month and a half later, on 13 May 2005, the new pope, Benedict XVI, wiped away the traditional delay of five years in the canonization process concerning his predecessor. The next morning, like a team of footballers preparing themselves for a forthcoming match, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre and her fellow nuns got stuck into a heavy-duty program of praying aimed at persuading the heavenly soul of the departed pope to do something about the nun's affliction. In spite of all their prayers, on 2 June 2005, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre was in such a state of suffering that she asked her mother superior for permission to abandon her physical duties. This request was refused. Instead, the mother superior demanded curiously that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre should use her pain-racked left hand to write the name of the deceased pope. As might be expected, the result was unreadable. But later in the evening, alone in her cell, the nun felt a sudden urge to perform the same writing exercise, and she discovered with amazement that, this time, the result was... miraculous. The following morning, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre informed her mother superior and the members of the community that her Parkinson's disease had indeed disappeared. A miracle... which the Church is now examining scrupulously.

Talking about miracles, I've often imagined a fabulous thought experiment: the resurrection of my father King Mepham Skyvington [1917-1978]. Now, that would be an authentic miracle, which would convert me instantly into a Believer. But that's not the point of my scenario. Let's imagine that my resuscitated father, out in his native Australia, were to be placed in front of a webcam, and that his friends were to tell him that he could now communicate in real time with his son over here in France. I would imagine that Dad would see this as magic... or, in ecclesiastic terms, as a miracle.

If we were to quiz enlightened Church people about the notion of miracles, many would admit that universal Science cannot be opposed concerning almost everything that has happened, is happening or will happen in the Cosmos. But they would then mention an addendum à la Leonard Cohen:

There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

They would claim that there are exceptions to Science, and that some of these exceptions can be described as Miracles.

Exceptions? I don't like exceptions of any kind. Imagine a murderer who defends himself as follows: "In general, I've always believed that killing was an unpardonable crime. But, in the case of my victim, I made an exception." Or a child rapist: "Sure, I believe in general that children should be protected from people like me. But this kid was exceptionally appealing."

In democratic societies, laws prevent citizens from saying certain things. I know little about legal systems, and I certainly don't have the vocation of a lawmaker, but I often feel that there should be some kind of a French law concerning people who would blab out publicly, at the start of the 21st century, their ridiculous beliefs about allegedly magic events. To call a spade a spade, I'm shocked by the fact that a French nun should be seeking the spotlight because her Parkinson's disease disappeared "miraculously" (in inverted commas). Medical researchers should be given time to advance suggestions (if they can) about why this astounding event might have occurred. Meanwhile, talk of magic and Christian miracles is stupidly outrageous, and should be outlawed.

Normally, this might be a big deal, except that [once again, an exception] few people today in France or elsewhere really give a folkloric fuck about what this nun or the Roman church might be claiming. Maybe it was Jesus himself who descended miraculously from his cross and gave this mindless nun the power to write the name of the pope. Who knows? Who cares? Let's have done with clownish popery. Meanwhile, Science moves on...

Saturday, December 9, 2006

God bashing

In the UK, religion and the religious are being treated pretty roughly these days. A few weeks ago, Elton John was outspoken on this subject, saying: "From my point of view, I would ban religion completely. Organized religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings, and it's not really compassionate." Today, Prime Minister Tony Blair made a thinly disguised criticism of Muslim immigrants, saying: "Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain. So, conform to it, or don't come here. We don't want the hate mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed." Blair’s explanations included a catchy slogan: "The right to be different, the duty to integrate.” Earlier this year, the Oxford professor Richard Dawkins (author of scientific best sellers such as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker) made a brilliant attack upon all kinds of religions in The God Delusion.

In Iraq, a suicide bomber sees himself as a martyr who will be rewarded in paradise by being introduced to seventy-two virgins. This sounds like a ridiculous incentive. But is it more absurd than the religious motivations of a George W Bush who was led to invade Iraq because God apparently encouraged him to do so?

In France, the Catholic Church recently criticized medical research using embryonic stem cells, and this criticism was expressed shortly before the Téléthon: France’s gigantic annual call for donations. Most French people were angered by the attitude of the Church, and the president himself stepped into the arena in order to tell the Church politely to shut up.

The French philosopher André Comte-Sponville recently brought out a book whose title could be translated as The Spirit of Atheism, in which he advocates a new kind of “spirituality without God”.

There’s no doubt about it: In the Old World (particularly in the laic republic of France), religion is more and more often an unwelcome visitor. The graffiti is on the wall: God, go home!